Summary and book reviews of Rumspringa by Tom Shachtman

Rumspringa

To Be or Not to Be Amish

By Tom Shachtman

Rumspringa
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  • Hardcover: May 2006,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: May 2007,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

A revelatory look at Amish youth as they have never been looked at before Rumspringa is a fascinating look at a little-known Amish coming-of-age ritual, the rumspringa—the period of "running around" that begins for their youth at age sixteen. Through vivid portraits of teenagers in Ohio and Indiana, Tom Shachtman offers an account of Amish life as a mirror to the soul-searching and questing that we recognize as a generally intrinsic part of adolescence.

The trappings of the Amish way of life—the "plain" clothes and electricity-free farms—conceal the communities' mystery: how they manage to retain their young people and perpetuate themselves generation after generation. The key to this is the rumspringa, when Amish youth are allowed to live outside the bounds of their faith, experimenting with alcohol, premarital sex, trendy clothes, telephones, drugs, and wild parties. By allowing them such freedom, their parents hope they will learn enough to help them make the most important decision of their lives—whether to be baptized as Christians, join the church, and forever give up worldly ways, or to remain out in the world.

In this searching book, Shachtman draws on his skills as a documentarian to capture young people on the cusp of a fateful decision, and to give us an original and deeply affecting portrait of the Amish as a whole.

1
“Going Away”

In the gathering dusk of a warm, humid summer Friday evening in northern Indiana, small groups of Amish-born girls between the ages of sixteen and nineteen walk along straight country lanes that border flat fields of high cornstalks and alfalfa, dotted here and there with neat, drab houses set back from the roads. One pair of girls walks westward, another pair eastward toward the destination; a threesome travels due south. Although not yet baptized members of the church, these young ladies all wear traditional “plain” Amish garb: solid-colored, long-sleeved dresses with aprons over them, long stockings and black shoes; white bonnets indicative of their status as unmarried cover their long hair, which is parted in the middle and pinned up in the back. A few carry small satchels. Though they are used to exercise and walking strongly, their demeanor is demure, so that they appear younger than non-Amish girls of the same age. The walkers pass homes ...

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At the heart of the Amish philosophy is a belief that humans are inherently weak and susceptible to temptation and thus need protecting - the strict rules of the community provide this protection. The central question that Shachtman explores is whether this protection is a white picket fence encompassing a beautiful garden of tranquility, or a barbed wire fence that keeps in more than it keeps out.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Mark Oppenheimer, author of Thirteen and a Day
If there are two groups that are difficult for an outsider to understand, it's surely Amish and adolescents--but Shachtman's book penetrates their world and provides a wealth of fascinating information. Oh, and it's really fun to read, too.

Kirkus Reviews

Shachtman's book suffers somewhat from an over-reliance on windy research studies and tomes like the Mennonite Quarterly Review... Nevertheless, a riveting and instructive portrait.

Booklist

[Provides] what is not only absorbing reading but also touching portraits of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood.

Library Journal

This work ... sensitively addresses the unique position of the Amish and the challenges they face. Highly recommended.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This is not only one of the most absorbing books ever written about the Plain People but a perceptive snapshot of the larger culture in which they live and move.

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Beyond the Book

A Brief History of the Amish
The Amish are direct descendants of the Anabaptists of 16th century Europe who rejected infant baptism and believed in the separation of church and state (which were entirely conjoined at the time). They became known as Mennonites after the Dutch Anabaptist leader Menno Simons (1496-1561). In the late 17th century there was a schism over the issue of how and when to enforce the "meidung" (shunning of non-confirming members) which led to a group breaking away under the leadership of Jakob Ammann, which became known as the Amish.

The first significant group of Amish arrived in America in about 1730 and settled in Pennsylvania. At the turn of the 20th century there were believed to be about 5,000 Old ...

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